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The Origins of Halloween

There has been a great deal of misunderstanding about the Halloween holiday and in some cases, outright lies designed to eliminate its practice. Here is the actual history of the holiday. If you read this and still decide not to celebrate the holiday, well, then at least you've done so knowledgably. Personally, I like th eholiday. As secular holidays go, it's one of the funnest, not to mention it heralds my favorite time of year---from Halloween to the end of the New Year's celebration.

Halloween began 2000 years ago with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The Celts of the British Isles began their year on November 1st. This was for agricultural reasons. The growing season was ended and the winter came, with it a new year dawned. As you might expect for an ancient civilization tied to agriculture for its sustenance, with winter came death. It was on the day before this "season of death" that the Celts believed the veil between this this world and the next was at its most thin. The ritual of Samhain helped the Celts ward off the evil spirits (that might otherwise cause all manner of deadly mischief) and to allow the Druids to soothsee the next year's future---thus allowing them to plan for the foreseen problems and events. They would offer burnt sacrifices to the the Celtic deities and engage is various nature rituals to appease the Gods, warn the spirits, and scry for impending dooms. Of course, they would dress as animals, which may be the origin of our costumed tradition.

Much later, during the Roman occupation, a couple fo Roman festivals began to merge slowly into the Celtic festival of Samhain. The first was Feralia, a Roman day of the dead, and the second was a holiday devoted to Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruits and trees. Though her symbol was the apple, there exists no direct proof that this might be the origin of our modern apple bobbing tradition.

As the middle ages bore close and Christianity's influence began being felt in all things across Europe, Pope Boniface IV designated the 1st of November as All Saints' Day to honor the Catholic saints and martyrs who've passed. There is some evidence that he coincided his new holiday with that of Samhain as a way to take some of the focus off the older pagan festival. The Catholic celebration was also called All-hallows and the day before, which was the day of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve or Halloween. Later, the church added All Souls' Day to it's roster of holidays on November 2nd. With a celebration quite similar to the older Samhain, the three holidays became lumped together in the minds of the people celebrating and were referred to collectively as Hallowmas.

Much later, as European immigrants began their migration to America, they brought with them the traditions they'd grown to practice---among them, Halloween. Of course, due to Puritan interests in the New World, celebration of Halloween was limited and rare, but it did not die out, particualrly in southern America, where Puritanism had no substantial foothold.

As the traditions of the colonists and the American Indians began to mix, a distinctive American holiday took shape. They would hold public parties to celebrate the harvest---remember that for early colonists, the harvest held almost the same public importance and worry that it held for the early Celts. At these "play parties", the celebrants would whisper ghost stories and soothsay, and generally revel into the late evening. All-around mischief-making became part-and-parcel with the ghost stories. Though all this was done to celebrate the harvest, and it borrowed memes from the earlier Hallowmas festivals, t was not actually a celebration of Halloween itself---not directly, at least.

By the 1850s, America was awash in immigrants, many of whom brought with them a fresh practice of the Hallowmas. Takng a cue from the English and Irish immigrants, the colonists began to dress in costume and go house to house asking for food or money. As the popularity of the Hallowmas grew, so too grew a movement to shape this "new" holiday into something more modern and less superstitious. By the end of the 1800s, the holiday had begun making its transformation into a festival that, while having the trappings of a pagan celebration, had more to do with community and fun than ghouls and goblins.

Around 1900, parents were encouraged to remove the superstition from the nightly celebrations. References to ghosts and witches were replaces with princesses and animals. By 1920, the holiday had become wholly secular in practice in the Unites States. By 1950, the practice of begging for food and money had been reborn as the more modern "trick-or-treat".

Commercially-speaking, Halloween is the second largest holiday practiced in the Unites States, with Americans spending an estimated $6.9 billion annually.

While I've left some details out (like the Soul Cakes and bowls of food and drink left out for the spirits) you should now have the gist of the history of Halloween.


#holidays #religion

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